Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It came to the West in the eighth century. In the 11th century it received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. In the 18th century it became a feast ofthe Universal Church. It is now recognized as a solemnity.
The Immaculate Conception refers to the belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from Original Sin from the very moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne. And accordingly nine months later, we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Her birth — on September 8th.
Elucidating on the belief, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed: ”The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour ofthe human race, was preserved free from all stain oforiginal sin.”
It took a longtime forthis doctrine to develop. While many Fathers and Doctors of the Church considered Mary the greatest and holiest of the saints, they often had difficulty in seeing Mary as sinless — either at her conception or throughout her life. This is one of the Church teachings that arose more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brillianttheologians.
Two Franciscans,William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus, helped develop the theology. They pointed out that Mary's Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus' redemptive work. Other members of the human race are cleansed from original sin after birth. In Mary, Jesus' work was so powerful as to prevent originalsin attheoutset.
Yet, few doctrines of the Catholic Church are as misunderstood as the dogma of the Immaculate
Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit in the womb ofthe Blessed Virgin Mary. That event, though, is celebrated at the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25, nine months before Christmas).
It maythus be concluded that the immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits ofChrist, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptism. Mary needed the redeeming Saviour to obtain this exemption, and to be delivered from the universal necessity and debt of being subject to original sin. Her redemption was the very masterpiece ofChrist's redeeming wisdom.